By Luke Pachymuthu
SINGAPORE | Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:45pm EDT
(Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell Plc halted tanker loading at its largest refinery, a half-a-million barrels-per-day plant in Singapore, as the company struggles to put out a fire burning since Wednesday afternoon.
The blaze has forced Shell to shut down a diesel-making unit, although the company said it could continue to supply the market from storage and other refineries.
“Fire-fighting operations are still underway,” the Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) said in a statement early on Thursday.
“There are about 100 SCDF fire-fighters fighting the fire with six fire engines and 13 support vehicles. About 250 essential Shell personnel are also on Pulau Bukom.”
At least one shipowner said that his ship had to pull off from the loading berth at around 1000 GMT on Wednesday, more than 5 hours after the fire started at the plant on Bukom island off Singapore’s shores.
“We had to cast off (from the berth) halfway through the loading,” the shipping source said.
“Our vessel is sitting at anchorage now, waiting for further instructions from Shell’s terminal, but no indication has been given on when we can go back in.”
Shell could not be immediately reached for comment.
Shell, in a statement earlier in the day, said the fire had “been significantly reduced” adding that staff continued to report for work at the island.
Crude processing units at the plant, which make up more than a third of the island nation’s total refining capacity, were running at a reduced rate, Shell said on Wednesday.
Production units near the blaze were shut as a precaution. Shell said in the process of the closure a larger flare would be visible. The flare was no cause for alarm, as no toxic vapors were being released, Shell said.
One Shell firefighter suffered a superficial injury, and five others had heat exhaustion and pulled muscles, it added.
Singapore is the world’s largest market for fuel oil and Asia’s hub for crude and refined product trading, and any disruptions from the fire could impact regional prices as some capacity has already been taken offline.
The company said the fire had damaged the pump room, which contains pipes used for blending refined fuels.
Shell is operating its ethylene cracker normally using alternative feedstock. The ethylene cracker is typically fed by products from the hydrocracking unit that was shut.
Shell, one of the biggest naphtha traders and suppliers in Asia, sold an unusually heavy volume of at least 40,000 tonnes of prompt October/November naphtha swaps on Wednesday, traders said.
The smoke plume generated from the fire has not affected Singapore so far, the National Environment Agency said. In a statement it said it was keeping a close watch on the situation and asked the public not to be alarmed.
(Additional reporting by Harry Suhartono and Seng Li Peng; Writing by Manash Goswami; Editing by Michael Urquhart)